Warren County budget changes as coronavirus creates windfalls and new costs in stride

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QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The changes that have come with COVID-19 in 2020 have included canceled or postponed events, altered community services and reduced staffing for some county departments. All of those have an impact on local and county economies, and on Friday, Warren County Supervisor Ryan Moore presented a new budget that laid out how; to the tune of around $4 million in savings for the county.

The new budget was created with contributions from 29 county departments, all of which reflected on how coronavirus had changed their own spending in 2020.

One of the largest sources of savings was reduced spending from the county tourism department, totaling in at $700,000. $163,500 had been saved by refraining from spending on social media promotions, online outreach and web development projects. Along the same lines, $40,000 was saved in travel guide expenses as well.

Unused occupancy tax set aside for tourism promotion accounts for another $500,000.

The next most noticeable factor for anyone living in the North Country is the unspent money left in the wake of county events. Moore said around $200,000 had been saved thanks to the cancelation of events that would have been funded by county occupancy tax.

Those include events like the Adirondack Nationals Car Show, Adirondack Balloon Festival and Warrensburg World’s Largest Garage Sale, among others.

Other savings come from internal county processes. About $100,000 went unspent by way of the county Department of Public Works not making any equipment purchases.

The DPW has operated with vacant positions through the pandemic. Moore said the engineering unit has remained particularly bare-bones.

Adding to that are benefits like $40,000 saved in legal and transfer fees from the county attorney’s office; $35,000 from a delayed upgrade to lighting at the county Sheriff’s office; and $35,000 from the April primary election getting delayed.

The $4 million saved is being put away for safekeeping for now. The funds are being appropriated into a contingency account, where they will remain untouched until further notice.

Costs on the county

The good news of money saved didn’t come without new concerns. The existence of that $4 million comes at a time when the county is taking a $900,000 hit of unexpected costs from the state of New York.

$700,000 of that comes from Medicaid reimbursement gap. Moore said that Medicaid providers are getting the same amount as before, and the county is being asked to pay the new difference out-of-pocket.

Also looming is the uncertain possibility of the county losing 20 percent of its usual state aid altogether, working out to a total loss of $3.5 million.

Moore said the county could weather the storm and handle that loss if it was just for one year, but if that loss became the new normal, worse times could lie ahead.

“If you take a $3.5 million cut for three years, you’re down below $10 million and we’re borrowing beneath payroll,” he said in the meeting Friday. “We don’t have the cash to pay people’s paychecks at that point.”

The county also made the decision to call off two $150,000 reserve fund packages. One was for new capital projects at SUNY Adirondack, and the other was set to go towards project assessments.

Data by the data plan

The impact on tourism advertisements could have been a lot worse. Moore brought Google mobility statistics that used cell phone data to track how many out-of-area visitors came to different New York counties in August. Warren County was the second-hottest destination.

Ranking first place by a wide margin was Essex County, which saw 72 percent more traffic than the year before. Warren County came up second at 38 percent. next was Wyoming County, at 30 percent; Sullivan County, at 20 percent; and Tioga County, at 13 percent.

Later in the meeting, board member Dennis Dickinson commented that he noticed the surge, because with it came a dip in his own cell reception. He suggested using that data to push for a boost in cell service to the county in the future.

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